Airdate: January 27, 2015
Directed by: Stephen Cragg
Showrunners: Tara Butters, Chris Dingess, Michele Fazekas
Written by: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby (based on the Marvel comics by), Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely (creator), Brant Englestein (episode written by)
Following a brief one-week hiatus, Marvel’s Agent Carter returns for the first episode in a final run of five straight weeks through to the end of this (hopefully first of many) mini-season. Having found Howard Stark [Dominic Cooper]’s stolen weapons in the last episode, Peggy Carter [Hayley Atwell] is surprised to find that the man himself has returned to New York, and worse, he wants her to get one of his weapons back. Meanwhile, Carter’s fellow agents are beginning to close in on information that may expose her, and one of Stark’s erstwhile shady business partners just might want her dead. And who – or what – is the new lady in 3E at The Griffith Hotel? Click through for my complete review.
Spoiler Alert: Unlike my previous reviews of Marvel’s Agent Carter, this review will not only discuss events, but will contain a brief synopsis of Episode 104, “The Blitzkrieg Button”, and is written with the assumption that you are up-to-date on the series so far.
Tonight’s episode gave us a few parallel stories to follow, the most interesting being – in a surprise twist – one of the apparently minor ones. The episode begins with Jarvis [James D’Arcey] paying off a couple of lowlifes with a wad of $1000 bills – they don’t even believe it’s real currency at first. The inform Jarvis that their boss, Mr. Mink , wants a further $100,000 – above and beyond the $50,000 he’s just paid them – in order to keep their mouths shut. Enter Carter, who first takes out the two goons’ support, and then arrives just in time to help Jarvis finish the last two. In Jarvis’s defense, he shows his own resourcefulness, pressing a button on his briefcase that hits the two extortionists with a spray of noxious gas. So what is it that he was paying them, and their boss Mr. Mink, to smuggle?
Carter and Jarvis go into a boxcar, where we see Howard Stark playing pool. Even when he’s being smuggled around, he still manages to live in style. Jarvis and Carter take Stark to one of his homes – only to see Agents Sousa [Enver Gjokaj] and Thompson [Chad Michael Murray] watching it. Against her better judgement, Carter takes Stark to her home at The Griffith Hotel, smuggling him upstairs through the laundry dumbwaiter. Naturally, snoopy Hotel mistress Ms. Fry [Meagen Fay] walks in on her, almost catching her in the act. She’s quite critical of Carter’s hours, and is pretty certain that she’s got a man going up to her room. To Carter’s relief – and somewhat to her surprise – the dumbwaiter is empty of Stark, only a bag of clothing left behind when she opens it upstairs. As Ms. Fry disappears, Carter hears a male voice behind a neighbor’s door – he’s already trying to use his “charm” on the single ladies in the building. Carter is not amused.
We get a glimpse of just who Carter and Stark have pissed off, when the two goons Jarvis was speaking with show up to explain to Mr. Mink why he didn’t get his money. He doesn’t believe their excuses – or, more likely, he doesn’t care – and he kills both men with a pretty interesting little Gatling pistol, that somehow seems to have unlimited ammunition (don’t question too hard – it’s a slick little piece). Mr. Mink is apparently suffering from albinism, and a complete lack of empathy. His initial appearance had me saying, “Ah, here’s a potential mid-level baddie that might be a thorn in Carter’s side for the next several episodes, masking the real baddie at the top.” Turns out I was a little off in this assessment, but more on that later.
Stark lends Carter what he thinks is a cool new piece of tech, a working camera pen. Peggy, however, is not terribly impressed, while Stark sputters on about the costs of miniaturization. In a brief moment of comic relief, Carter goes into the SSR lab to get shots of all the confiscated weapons. She clicks her pen above, around, and beside a slightly befuddled scientist who can’t stop talking about how his glasses got melted off his face, while two others deal with first green, then blue flames erupting on one of their arms. Upon returning she, predictably, finds Stark in another of her neighbor’s rooms. It’s kind of a tired replay – we get that he’s a dissolute playboy as well as a genius – but it does serve to contrast with the degree that Stark appears to respect Carter, despite the fact that she’s a woman.
He tells her, as he looks at the photos (the first several he rips away, telling her they’re not for her eyes, implying heavily, again, that it’s related to one of his many conquests. Stark’s always been played as something of a hedonist, but I actually found myself getting annoyed by this focus tonight), he tells her that all of his weapons are there. Carter immediately notes that he doesn’t seem happy, so he explains that there’s one that really needs to be retrieved from the SSR. He calls it the Blitzkrieg Button, and his description tells us that it’s basically a massively over-powered EMP (electromagnetic pulse) weapon. If it gets inadvertently triggered, it’ll wipe out the power grid throughout New York City. Conveniently, Stark has a mock-up, one he claims won’t be discernibly different from the original.
On the way to the SSR offices, she asks Jarvis (who is driving her) if what Stark says about the weapon is accurate. She seems to be doing this to confirm the severity of the situation, but it isn’t entirely clear why she doesn’t trust Stark at this point – after all, she’s put her entire professional life (not to mention her freedom) on the line in supporting Stark behind the scenes – but she does question Jarvis, and is surprised to note a pretty obvious tell: when Jarvis is nervous, and apparently lying or omitting the truth, he tugs rather sharply on his right ear lobe. Now, it may have been a couple of weeks between episodes so we’re not supposed to notice, but if Jarvis has this obvious a tell, why is it that Thompson and Dooley [Shea Whigham] didn’t a) bring that out in him, nor b) notice it while interrogating him last episode? Jarvis was notably calm and cool under pressure then, and his backstory (what we know of it) would seem to indicate that this is a constant trait in him. Is he nervous because he feels bad about lying to Carter? That would make sense, and I’ll give him (and the writers) the benefit of the doubt here, as we do see some strong remorse from him later.
And he is lying, as we find out when Carter, rather than simply taking the device back to Stark after replacing it with the dud, decides to open it up. Inside, she finds a vial of blood. As she is leaving, she hears Sousa talking, and rather than being confronted about being in the offices late, she backs into an interrogation room – only to find Agent Thompson there already, finishing off a mostly empty bottle of Scotch (which she mistakenly accuses him of drinking entirely – it was used in an earlier interrogation, which I’ll talk about below). Even if he’s not drunk, he is brutally honest with her, asking her why she does the job. He points out, “You’re a woman. No man will ever consider you an equal. It’s sad, but it doesn’t make it any less true.” Brutal, yes, and Peggy leaves the room with defiant tears in her eyes, saying, “I can always come to you for the truth.” One of the primary themes underlying this show has been the constant unthinking misogyny, so it is almost refreshing to have one of its worst perpetrators lay it out so plainly; yet it is also one of the saddest moments in the episode, as the act of recognition does not form itself into a sense of needing to right a wrong, to end an injustice in Thompson’s mind. He’s able to see clearly, but only to the end of his own nose.
Carter returns home and, surprisingly, finds Stark there, and not in one of her neighbor’s apartments. She confronts him, and he admits that the vial is Steve Roger’s blood. She decks him with a hard right hook, and he goes on a rambling series of justifications, blaming his upbringing in the Lower East Side for his tendency to lie, and his need of the vial in order to save millions of lives with potential vaccines. Carter sees right through this, however, and points out that he’d stand to make a ton of money off any medical advances, using the blood of a man who lived and died by his principles. Stark is hardly remorseful, although he tries, and Carter tells him to get the hell out of her apartment before she returns.
Jarvis tries to do damage control, apologizing to Carter, but she’s not ready to accept. Sitting at a shoe-shine stand, Jarvis tells Stark (hiding behind a paper in plain sight) that he, too, is unimpressed with Stark’s actions. He tells him straight that he’s taken Carter for granted, and that he has some work to do. As Jarvis leaves, we finally get the requisite Stan Lee cameo, as he asks Stark if he can have his Sports section. Stan’s starting to look his age, but he’s still able to deliver his lines, and it’s always kind of nice to see him, even if it is a little bit of fan service.
While this main storyline is going on, there are two more happening back at the SSR. Dooley has a lead on the dead Russians without voice-boxes, the ones that supposedly died at a battle in World War II. There’s a Nazi general scheduled for execution at Nuremberg who was supposedly at the battle, and Dooley wants to question him. Off to Germany he goes, leaving Agent Thompson in charge while he’s away. In Germany, Dooley offers the general an easier way out than hanging, showing him three pills in a tin and telling him they’re cyanide. The general proceeds to tell him that there was, in fact, no battle. Instead, he and his troops came upon a massacre of Russian soldiers. The area was filled with the dead; something, he says, “tore them apart.” What this something is, I suspect, will come to play a role in the latter half of the series. As Dooley leaves, having got all the information he can, he offers the tin to his escort. “Breath mint?” he asks. This is a good little piece of character building. To this point, Dooley’s most notable characteristics have been his fedora, and his tendency to hunch to his right when speaking. Now, we see a bit more, expanding on his emotional reaction to losing Krzeminski two weeks ago. We see Dooley at the very end of the episode, returned to his office, when the teletype machine taken from Demidov’s room two episodes ago starts to type out a message. Who is it from? What does it say?
Another secondary storyline follows the SSR’s Stark investigation. Back in the office, Thompson takes his role as de facto chief pretty seriously. He tells the men office that he’s going to assign them each of their assignments personally, and that none of them are going home until they break the Stark case. Typically, he asks Carter to take everyone’s lunch orders. Sousa shows a bit of his hidden strength here, getting his jacket and hat and making to leave. Thompson asks him what he’s up to, and he says he’s going to go back to the docks to look for finger prints on the phone. Thompson thinks it’s a fool’s errand, but he doesn’t try to stop Sousa either; he sees Sousa as a useless member of the team, even telling him at one point, now that Krzeminski is gone, that he’s the new “yoyo” in the office – the tool that everyone else will play, the bottom of the pecking order. This might play out in interesting ways; recall, when Krzeminski was low man, he simply took out all his frustrations on Carter, but this is unlikely to happen with Sousa. He’s being played as a much more honorable, if at times somewhat naive, man. I suspect, however, we’ll get to see exactly how loyal he is to Peggy in next week’s episode, based on something that happens right at the end.
Sousa is spraying down the payphone handset, looking for fingerprints, when he overhears a couple of men speaking. He approaches them – it’s a pair of dock rummies playing nickel poker. One offers him a seat in the game, but he shows his badge and asks for info. He pays the first, who says he bunks down a few blocks away, but suggests his friend might have info. He’s belligerent, telling him he doesn’t talk to police, and gets up to take a swing at Sousa. Sousa uses his quick reflexes to avoid the shot, knocks his opponent down, and places his crutch squarely on the man’s throat. He brings him in for questioning, and here is where we see some of his naivety. He tries to commiserate with the man, using their shared experience as World War II vets and the fact that people only sees him for his disability, much like people only see the homeless man’s situation rather than the man himself. The potential witness is having none of it, and Thompson lays into Sousa for bringing him down to the station.
Tired of Sousa’s line of questioning and attempts at camaraderie, Thompson enters the interrogation room carrying a bag of sandwiches and a bottle of Scotch. He tells the man that they’re all his if he tells them what he knows. Sousa is offended by the offer, and is trying to defend the man’s honor, when the guy spills what little he knows. He tells them that the man who made the call was thin and well-dressed, and that he was with a woman. He then grabs the bottle and guzzles most of its contents. Sousa looks disheartened, and Thompson gives him credit for bringing the guy in, despite the paucity of information gathered. Sousa shows him a picture of the blonde woman (who we know is Agent Carter), and asks if she could be the woman the man saw. He tells Sousa no, that the woman was dark haired. At the end of the episode, as Dooley is watching the teletype machine typing out its message, we cut to Sousa, who is staring at the photograph. He takes a pen and begins to shade in the woman’s hair – how long before he further makes the connection with Peggy? The woman’s physique is striking, and it’s inevitable that he is going to be the one in the office to identify her. The question then will be, what does he do with the information? He’s obviously quietly enamored of her, and feels a kinship due to the way they’re both treated in the office. He even got in trouble (with her) for coming to her defense in the series pilot; but is he once bitten, twice shy? Will he out her in an attempt to curry favor? Or will he show his honor and try to at least approach her first? Time will tell (about one week, in this case, I suspect).
Finally, in a third minor storyline, we get a little more Mr. Mink. He shows up at The Griffith, intent on taking out Carter, or at least trying to get more money from Stark through her. He sees a flower delivery man, and moments later shows up inside the hotel, wearing the deliveryman’s clothing and carrying a bouquet. This is done in a real off-hand way, but further emphasizes just how dangerous and cold this guy is. He gunned down two of his own men without batting an eye, and the fact that he’s here, wearing another man’s clothing, suggests that he’s just done the same to a complete innocent. Again, as I was watching this, I kept thinking, “This guy’s the real deal.” Predictably, Ms. Fry intercepts him, and tells him he can’t deliver the flowers in person, but while she’s writing a note about delivering them upstairs later, Mink sees Carter’s apartment number and heads out the door. He’s resourceful – we next see a heating grate’s screws being undone from the inside of the wall. He comes out, walks to Carter’s door, and starts to work on the lock. Before he can get in, however, another door opens down the hall. It’s Carter’s new neighbor from Iowa, Dottie Underwood [Bridget Regan]. Mink tells her to go back into her apartment, but she looks kind of dumbfounded, and asks if he knows Peggy. He tells her again to leave, raising his gun to point it at her. Her eyes widen a little as she looks at the pistol, and she says, “Is that pistol an automatic? I want that.” Suddenly, she leaps into action, jumping against one wall, propelling herself back against the other, and spinning around Mink before he’s able to respond, twisting and breaking his neck while she relieves him of his gun. What? Holy turnabout, Batman! (I know, wrong comic universe and all. Forgive me.)
We see her at the end, admiring the gun, as the camera pans down to where she’s casually hidden Mink’s body underneath her bed. Who exactly is Dottie Underwood? I’m guessing she’s not from Iowa. My first guess is that she’s some kind of agent or assassin, and her appearance at the Griffith must be tied to Carter’s choice to move into the building. She’s not there to kill Carter outright – she would likely have already made an attempt, based on how capable she appears to be – but she’s definitely there to watch Carter. Is she a protector? Is she working for the nebulous yet-to-be-revealed badguys? Is she Hydra? I loved the ease with which she disposed of Mr. Mink. He was established as a cold, remorseless killer, who was able to slip into the Griffith very efficiently, who had sophisticated and advanced weaponry, and yet – one second. That was all it took from the moment Dottie saw and coveted his gun, to the moment Mink lay on the floor with his neck snapped. This is a brilliant move by the writers and showrunners. Mink was clearly being established as a formidable foe – only he wasn’t. In fact, to Dottie, he was just a minor annoyance that had something she wanted, and she didn’t even know she wanted it until the moment she took it. Bang. Everything changed in an instant. The scene was a real shocker, and I have high hopes for Dottie moving forward.
The episode itself was a little uneven, and was the weakest so far, although still fairly strong in its own right. The first half took a while to get going, with the Stark/Carter back-and-forth taking too long, when most of it could have been done in one or two scenes. The whole pen camera thing was gratuitous tech-love. All Stark had to do was say, “Hey, if this device, for which I have a mock-up right here, happens to be in the office, please bring it here – it’s dangerous.” Everything’s done in one visit to the SSR, and we get smoother narrative flow. The episode does, however, improve noticeably in the second half, with enough reveals and excitement coming as we skipped back and forth between the four storylines that, when the episode actually ended, I felt as though it wasn’t over yet. I actually swore, thinking my recorder had failed to catch the last fifteen minutes or so, until I saw that I was at the 59 minute mark. This is, to my mind, a good sign.
We got to see some good character development within the SSR, with both Dooley and Thompson getting moments, and Sousa showing his slow and steady passive-aggressive approach to policing. The tension between Jarvis and Stark, due to Stark’s treatment of Carter, was authentic, as we have seen Jarvis and Carter develop a strong rapport over the past three (four with the hiatus) weeks. Jarvis standing up to Stark will help to, perhaps, pull back some of the inventor’s hubris, a necessary step if he is to show the humility he will need to in order to win Carter back to his cause.
Next week, we’re going to see a reunion of sorts, as Carter heads out on the road with the Howling Commandos. I’m really looking forward to it, as they had some of the best scenes in the two Captain America films. Of course, I suspect that means that we’ll not find out too much about our newest mystery, Dottie – but that’s okay. Give us a little information at a time, and let the audience savor it.
Steve’s Grade: B+
Another strong episode, though not quite so strong as the previous three. A real twist at the end, and the threat of imminent exposure for Carter, just at a time when she feels cast adrift by Stark’s lies and Jarvis’s complicity. The midway point of this abbreviated season promises more great surprises and action to come.